Tribe’s late-season rally sends them back to state

Just when it seems like they are out, they get back in.
Now the Yuma High School volleyball Indians are so far in, they will compete in the program’s ninth straight Class 2A Tournament, next week at Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.
“What a rollercoaster of a season, and really, within each match at times,” coach Jenny Noble said. “Something just happened to click in set three and we rode that momentum until the end. I can’t outguess my girls! But I’m loving every minute of it.”

It was just a few short weeks ago that it appeared the Tribe’s season would be done at the conclusion of the shortened, rescheduled Season C, sitting 3-8 after a home loss to Merino. However, they recovered to win the nightcap of that triangular against Akron, then closed out the regular season with impressive wins the next week against Brush and Limon.
The three-match winning streak was just enough for the Indians to sneak into the 2A 24-team playoff field, as the 22nd seed. That sent them to undefeated third-seed Meeker for regional, last Saturday. The other Region 3 team, Union Colony Prep of Greeley, was one of five teams in all the classifications that had to bow out of regional due to COVID issues — after there were none throughout Season C.
That meant just one match at Meeker, with the winner advancing to state.
It sure seemed like Meeker would hold serve, so to speak, as the hometown Cowboys won the first two sets. Once again, it seemed like it was over for the Tribe.

Ema Richardson gets the ball over the net during the regional win at Meeker, last Saturday. (Pioneer Photo)

However, just like back in 2012 when the Tribe rallied from an 0-2 deficit at Resurrection Christian to begin the current state tournament streak, the 2021 Season C Tribe also put on a memorable rally with three straight wins — the last two in nail-biting, hand-shaking fashion — to get back to state once again, 17-25, 16-25, 25-10, 26-24 and 15-13.
Noble said she puts it up there with a five-set match her oldest daughter Jess played at state for Otis against Fleming, and the five-set thriller against Rez that included her younger daughter Mallory.
“In each of the three, just when you thought the chips were down, something special happened on the floor and against all odds, victory was achieved,” she said. “It’s amazing what the mind can do to help a team overcome in situations like these. Every sense is heightened and it’s just so powerful.”
The Indians now have all week, as well as Monday and Tuesday, to practice prior to state — which was moved from this weekend to Wednesday and Thursday, May 12-13, when CHSAA decided to move it from a club volleyball venue near the Budweiser Center in Loveland, to a real arena in Colorado Springs where fans can actually sit in real stands and take in all five classifications at once, just like it usually is in the Denver Coliseum. (However, each team gets just 125 fans, and they can be in the arena only for their team’s match.)
“We’ll enjoy the break,” Noble said. “Gives us a chance to catch our breath and hone in on some areas of our game that hurt us when we played Wiggins the first time around. The girls are super excited and it’s fun to look forward to another trip to the big tournament.”
Fittingly, Yuma opens state against top-seed, and fellow LPAA school, Wiggins. That’s the same team the Tribe opened Season C against, losing in straight sets in The Pit.
“Team chemistry is better and we’re just communicating a little more,” Noble said. “We’re taking each game personally, and I think those intangibles are what’s been helping us get some of these wins lately. I’m excited to play Wiggins in the first round — it’ll be a good one.”
State will be a straight-up eight-team bracket, just like back in 1990 when YHS won its first volleyball state title. (The program has won two more 2A titles since, in 2015 and 2018, as well as three state runners-up seasons.) Winners advance, losers are out. No consolation bracket.
Jayci Mekelburg goes to the floor for a serve receive, last Saturday in Meeker. (Pioneer Photo)
Quarterfinals will be played Wednesday, May 12, with Yuma-Wiggins at 11 a.m. The semifinals and final will be played Thursday, May 13. The Yuma-Wiggins winner will play in the “Breakfast at the Broadmoor” 8 a.m. semifinal, against the Fowler-Vail Christian winner. The championship matches in all classifications is set for 5 p.m.
The only way for the Tribe, 7-8, to finish the season with a winning record is to win the championship.
“Our record is definitely a little shaky, but each of the last few matches, we’ve made it more and more respectable,” Noble said. “8-8 is our next goal, and we’ll go one at a time, to see what we can do.”
Fowler is the fourth seed, and Vail Christian the fifth.
LPAA teams comprise half of the 2A field (plus Merino is the third seed in the 1A tourney), as Sedgwick County is the third seed, playing sixth-seed Dayspring Christian in the quarterfinals, and seventh-seed Holyoke playing second-seed Denver Christian.
“The new seeding format has really given good teams in tough leagues a better chance to make it to state by taking on other teams around the state and battling it out — rather than getting put in the same region every year and a top team going home because they come up against a difficult team from their league for the fourth time of the season,” Noble said. “I think it’s great.”
Of YHS volleyball’s nine-year state run, this likely is the most surprising. 2012 was a breakthrough moment, but that team had done well all season and obviously had talent, the program just had not had much recent success. Yuma’s Season C team obviously had talent, it just was having trouble getting all the pieces together, and there was not much time to get it done in a seven-week season.
Luckily, it all came together just in time.
“I honestly don’t know what happened to get our butts in gear,” Noble said. “Maybe we just suddenly felt some urgency and decided it was time to get with it.”
The Indians made the 363-mile trip to Meeker late last week, spending the Friday night off I-70 in Rifle before making the final 40-mile stretch north on winding Highway 13.
At first, it seemed like they had never checked out of the Comfort Inn.
Meeker entered regional 12-0, seeking its first state title after several recent trips to the big show, and featured super-sophomore Ella Luce, a power-hitter who also has an all-around game.
Yuma hung tough early in the first set, trailing just 7-8, but Meeker pushed out to a four-point lead, and the Tribe never got closer than three the rest of the way in the 17-25 loss. The Indians hurt their own cause several little miscues.
They recovered to play a competitive second set, leading 16-15. However, they then completely collapsed as the Cowboys scored 10 straight points, the last on a service ace, to plunge Yuma into a 0-2 hole.
While the Meeker players danced to the great music played between sets, Noble gave hard-hitting rousing speech in the Indians’ huddle.
Facing elimination, the Indians played a dominating third set.

They raced out to a 6-1 lead, pushed it to 10-3, then 15-6. A 4-0 surge, capped by Elle Roth’s service ace, gave Yuma a 19-9 lead. It was 19-10 when Yuma scored the last six points for the win.
But not before some drama.
Luce was injured while hustling into the stands for a wayward pass on Yuma’s 23rd point. The gym went quiet as she was attended to. However, she was able to walk off the court, iced her back between sets, and was back on the floor for the fourth set.
It was a battle all the way. The Tribe trailed 7-10, but scored six straight behind Meidi Reyes’ serving. Yuma continued to keep the lead, but Meeker also showed plenty of heart, rally from deficits of 22-17 and 24-21, to tie it at 24. The Indians, though, also did not wilt under the pressure, scoring the 25th point, then forcing a deciding fifth set on Ema Richardson’s kill for the winning point.
Meeker was not dancing between sets anymore.
Yuma took an 8-4 lead in the fifth set, but back-to-back booms by Luce helped Meeker pull to within one, 9-8. Yuma led 10-8 when the Cowboys scored four of the next five points for a 12-11 lead.
Yuma recovered for a 14-12 lead, but Meeker won a long rally as the ball barely slipped over the net to make it 14-13.
However, a good serve receive and set led to Richardson’s kill being misplayed by the Cowboys, and the Yuma players, bench — including coaches — and crowd erupted into a joyful celebration with the 15-13 win.
Back to state again.
The Yuma bench and crowd erupt after a critical point toward the end of the fifth set at Meeker last Saturday. (Pioneer Photo)

“It was so awesome,” Noble said. “I’m still smiling about it. Really, the other coaches and I were in disbelief for quite some time. I know of a lot of people who turned the radio off after set two. And I can’t say I blame them. But wow, just wow!”
Meeker’s Luce finished with an impressive 37 kills, but her effort was countered by Yuma’s more-balanced attack as the Indians had 55 kills compared to the Cowboys’ 48.
Roth recorded 22 kills, Richardson and Caddis Robinson 16 each, and Mia Dischner three. Lea Richardson had 46 setting assists, and Reyes three. Jayci Mekelburg, Taylor Law, Robinson and Roth took turns getting the offense going from the back line, leading the team in serve receive and digs. L. Richardson also was strong in digs. Competing defensively at the net finally forced Luce into some kill attempts that went out the back line. E. Richardson and Robinson each were in on three blocks, and Dischner two. Roth was 21-21 serving with two aces, L. Richardson 18-20 with two aces, Dischner 18-20 with one ace, Reyes 14-14 with one ace, Robinson 11-13, and E. Richardson 10-11.
“ Even though that was great — I’m going to demand just a little more out of each player next week,” Noble said. “I think we can do some damage.”